Viktor Kozlov scored two goals and Luongo made 40 saves to lead
the Panthers to a 2-1 victory. The defeat left the Rangers four
points behind the New York Islanders, who hold the eighth and final
playoff slot in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders have played
three fewer games than the Rangers.
The victory also kept the Panthers' hopes alive in the playoff
chase as they moved two points behind the Rangers.
''It was like a playoff game,'' said Panthers coach Mike Keenan.
''We had great goaltending, and special teams won the game for us.
We still want to stay in the playoff race and that's all that
matters to us.''
Kozlov, who sparkled on special teams, snapped a 1-1 tie on the
power play at 3:32 of the third period. He ripped a shot from the
right circle past goalie Mike Dunham.
The Rangers pressed for the equalizer, but ran into some bad
luck. A shot by Brian Leetch trickled past Luongo midway through
the period, but the goal was waved off because the referee had
blown the whistle. Eric Lindros had a pair of close-in stuff
attempts two minutes later and appeared to have scored when the red
light went on. However, the video replay judge ruled the puck
didn't go completely over the goal line.
''I got pushed at the end and I didn't see,'' Lindros said. ''I
thought it went in. Those are the rules we play with at both ends
of the ice. We did have a video replay, but unfortunately it wasn't
conclusive enough to show that.''
Luongo mopped up the rest for his second consecutive 40-save
performance in a 2-1 victory. The other came against Atlanta.
''I like to face a lot of shots,'' Luongo said. ''It really
keeps me in the game.''
It was a game the Rangers needed badly. New York was on a
season-high five game unbeaten streak and a four-game unbeaten
streak at home that carried it back into the playoff hunt.
''We just put too much pressure on ourselves,'' said Rangers
forward Pavel Bure. ''We tried too hard, and sometimes when you try
too hard, the puck jumps over your stick and misses the net in
Sandy McCarthy scored the New York goal.
The Panthers, one of the league's hottest road teams, played a
spirited first period and held a 1-0 lead thanks to the
short-handed goal by Kozlov.
With Olli Jokinen in the penalty box, Marcus Nilson nudged the
puck away from Alexei Kovalev at the Rangers' blue line. Kozlov
scooped up the puck in the neutral zone and broke in alone on
Dunham to score his 20th goal.
Florida outshot New York 15-13, but one of the Rangers' best
chances didn't register in the total. Leetch rang a shot off the
goalpost with the Rangers on the power play.
The Rangers pulled even when McCarthy scored the lone goal of
the second period. Dan LaCouture chipped the puck from the end
boards to McCarthy in the slot. The big forward had a wide-open
side of the net as Luongo and defenseman Ivan Majesky were out of
Kozlov has 21 goals this season, marking the first time he
reached the 20-goal mark in his nine-year career. ... Former
Panther Bure played in his 700th NHL game. ... The Panthers have
won three in a row on the road and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 road